Rise of the Ronin key art
Image via Team Ninja

Review in Progress: Rise of the Ronin

Shaping the course of history with the edge of a blade.

All my years of watching samurai films with my father have led me to the arrival of Rise of the Ronin. But instead of watching everything unfold, it is I who wields the sword, and boy, does it feel good.

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It’s been a while since I’ve rekindled the magic of an old-fashioned adventure, hunting down some big bad. And fortunately, Rise of the Ronin delivers even if I have yet to reach the endgame. Regardless, I have spent a considerable amount of time diving into this 19th-century, late Edo Japan. And no matter how much I seem to accomplish, there’s always more to do.

Main protagonist in Rise of the Ronin
Screenshot by Destructoid

Rise of the Ronin (PS5 [reviewed])
Team Ninja
Publisher: Sony
Released: March 22, 2024
MSRP: $69.99

Rise of the Ronin’s map expands its seemingly endless to-do list with each region you unlock. But before getting lost in its historic inspirations, the character creator presents the true start of what feels like limitless adventure. It’s here that I began my ronin’s slice-and-dice escapades, though not before time escaped me for far longer than I planned. I’ve never been one for customizing characters simply because I lack the talent to conjure up an intricately designed avatar. If I see a nice preset, I won’t hesitate to go that route, yet that wasn’t the case for Rise of the Ronin.

It was one of the first times where I actually spent more than an hour on a character, considering all it has to offer. The hairstyles go beyond the standard aspects you may have seen before, showcasing options for bangs, various highlights, ponytail preferences, and even the little hairs on the side. Almost every time I discovered a new option, I just couldn’t help but “Ohhh” and “Ahhh,” my way through mixing and matching styles. The choices between creative tattoo designs only fueled the indecision.

Creating a character in Rise of the Ronin
Screenshot by Destructoid

What’s more, Rise of Ronin’s character creation premise plays similarly to Dragon’s Dogma 2, with two customizable avatars. So, if there were other character features you were eyeing, you can least get the satisfaction of putting it on the companion. Once things finally kick off, the story will transport players to a movie-like experience with a twist of real history. While the adventures of the ronin may be entirely fictional, there’s plenty of real-world inspiration making it delightfully fantastical and familiar all at the same time.

Embellishing history

Key figures and historical events often shape the journey, which is one of the main reasons I thoroughly enjoy Rise of the Ronin. Early on, my first exposure to Cold War-inspired media like Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater pressed me to learn more about the actual contentious stand-off. I’ve always been drawn to video games like it, and tracing the footsteps of our very real history through the more theatrical presentation often serves as a jumping-off point for something I can learn. Sure, it all drifts into the absurd, but it’s a thread to follow.

Of course, there’s the obvious fiction and grandiose showdowns weaved throughout. In the world of Rise of the Ronin, the story is based in the year 1863 in Japan, amidst the Treaty of Amity and Commerce event. This was around the time when Japan and the United States began to open trade relations in the area.

Your ronin gets in the middle of this new treaty, and chaos ensues throughout the lands. Like a true warrior, you must put out fires wherever you go, as the Black Ships of the West threaten to disrupt the order. The ronin’s Blade Sharpening Origin proves beneficial here, determining their combat style. Various forms cater more toward one category, such as Strength, Dexterity, Charisma, and Intelligence. There is also a balanced style for those who want a fair advantage in all categories.

Sword fighting in Rise of the Ronin
Image via Team Ninja

Each category includes a recommended weapon set, but I never felt like I was tied down to a specific one. Even if my origin was designed for dual blades and guns, I could still wield longer swords and the game’s many other tools. Since there is a variety of weapons to choose from, there is never a dull moment in combat. Some special moves unleash a bloody Mortal Kombat-like elimination, bringing more excitement to fights. But if the head slicing and gore become too much, the settings can be tweaked to tone it down.

A samurai doesn’t always wield a sword

Parrying can be a bit challenging to master, but like a true samurai, patience and timing are critical. Different weapons will also be unlocked throughout the journey to help even the playing field. What I love about Rise of the Ronin’s selection is the fact that it never sticks to the norm. You would think it would just go with swords, yet there are so many options to explore with the help of a gadget enthusiast NPC. It reminds me of the various tools in Ratchet and Clank, where you’ll never know what new shiny item you’ll get next.

Are you tired of slicing up people? Use a flamethrower to set them ablaze. Don’t know how to reach a chest on the cliff’s edge? Take advantage of the craftable glider. More tools and weapons options make Rise of the Ronin more user-friendly, and it won’t take long to find something you like. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “I wish the game had this,” and then it preceded to give me the very thing I desired. Despite the story being set long ago, its numerous inventions provide a modern appeal rather than only offering the traditional sampling of swords and period weaponry.

Besides combat, exploration is another element of Rise of the Ronin that I greatly appreciate. I fought with every fiber of my being to stick to the main story, but alas, I continued to get sidetracked anywhere I went. I’m a sucker for objective checklists, like Marvel’s Spider-Man’s map, and it’s just so satisfying to 100 percent complete each region in the game. Plus, the grapple hook swings you around like our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man for more traveling maneuvers. Oh, and did I mention that the activities involve finding adorable cats? If that doesn’t suck you into Rise of the Ronin, I don’t know what will.

Achieving some of ronin’s objectives grows slightly tedious if they primarily involve a group takedown. However, I never seemed to mind it long, as I simply moved on to another task that didn’t require any combat whatsoever. It also doesn’t hurt that the scenery is exceptionally sensational. While there’s been some mixed reactions to the game’s somewhat dated visuals, I don’t think those impressions do it justice. It’s stylish; full of brilliant lighting that paves the way through pops of color. Rise of the Ronin’s map is delightfully vibrant and serene (well, all the bits of violence and gore).

Exploring in Rise of the Ronin
Screenshot by Destructoid

There are moments when the graphics aren’t entirely up to par with the PS5 through environmental textures. Nevertheless, I continued to marvel at its beauty, taking it all in with Photo Mode.

Lone wolf no more

We also can’t forget that characters are what bring these locations to life. Side characters have been a hit or miss for me in some of my more recent experiences, and luckily, Rise of the Ronin leans toward a hit with more moments that endear or engage me than not. Although it’s predominately a serious setting in nature, it wasn’t without a good chuckle here and there. Team Ninja’s action RPG knows when to have an occasional laugh, and more than one passing, ridiculous comment caught me off guard in the moment.

Improving relationships play a significant part in the story, while companions join you in battle to strengthen those bonds. The camaraderie among the group increases the fun factor, especially when you can sit back and relax with teammates at a longhouse. Hanging with these characters on and off the battlefield adds a more personal element, investing not just my ronin’s affinity for them but mine, too. I just only wish that more NPCs had thoughtful interactions like those present in the Yakuza series and Red Dead Redemption 2.

I’ve probably only scratched the surface with characters and other story components, but so far, I am genuinely having fun with it. On top of that, I am starting a different playstyle that’s akin to Netflix’s Blue Eye Samurai, customizing my character to match the show’s main protagonist. The two storylines are vaguely similar to one another, so if you’ve been itching for Season 2, Rise of the Ronin certainly fills that void. While I’m already convinced it’s worth a co-op adventure and more nights dedicated to testing new builds, I’m excited to finish my solo journey ahead and revisit Rise of the Ronin’s historical setting, dated in only the best of ways.

[These impressions are based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Kristina Ebanez
Staff Writer - Kristina has been a video game lover ever since she saw Solid Snake get under that cardboard box in Metal Gear Solid. She continues to show off her love for gaming and has been writing about it for more than two years. Aside from the Metal Gear Solid series, she enjoys playing The Sims, Call of Duty, Disney Dreamlight Valley, Horizon Forbidden West, Minecraft, and many more.